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Jing-Mei, the narrator of Amy Tan's short story, "A Pair of Tickets," from her collection entitled, The Joy Luck Club, travels to China where she feels at home and, at the same time, alien to her surroundings and experiences.
From the time Jing-Mei was a child, she insisted there was no Chinese in her at all beneath the skin, although she is the daughter of two Chinese immigrants. When she returns to China with her father, traveling on the train, though she has never been there before, she feels a sense of coming home:
For the first time I can ever remember, my father has tears in his eyes, and all he is seeing out the train window is a sectioned field of yellow, green, and brown, a narrow canal flanking the tracks, low rising hills, and three people in blue jackets riding an ox-driven cart on this early October morning. And I can't help myself. I also have misty eyes, as if I had seen this a long, long time ago, and had almost forgotten.
Jing-Mei feels alien when she arrives in Guangzhou: her passport picture shows a westernized young woman with make-up and chic hair, but in the heat, her face and hair are plain. Though she may look Chinese, her passport announces that she is an American.
When Jing-Mei meets her father's great-aunt, Aiyi, and her children and grandchildren, the difference in language also makes Jing-Mei feel like an outsider. Her father and his aunt speak Mandarin, while Aiyi's family speaks Cantonese. Jing-Mei can understand Mandarin, but cannot really speak either language, and her relatives do not speak English.
Aiyi and my father speak the Mandarin dialect from their childhood, but the rest of the family speaks only the Cantonese of their village. I understand only Mandarin but can't speak it that well. So Aiyi and my father gossip unrestrained in Mandarin...And they stop only occasionally to talk to the rest of us, sometimes in Cantonese, sometimes in English.
Jing-Mei worries about meeting her half-sisters, daughters that her dead mother had to leave behind in China while trying to escape, almost dying herself. Jing-Mei is afraid she was not a good enough daughter, did not appreciate her mother. She fears the reception she will receive when they meet. However, her fear is unfounded. The girls look much like her mother, in an instant, and Jing-Mei feels immediately at home with them. Her mother's spirit seems to move among the three of them, and they joyfully welcome each other, surrounding Jing-Mei with a sense of homecoming and belonging.
And now I see [my mother] again, two of her, waving and in one hand there is a photo, the Polaroid I sent them. As soon as I get beyond the gate, we run toward each other, all three of us embracing, all hesitations and expectations forgotten.
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